Annual spelling bee creates a buzz for local scholarship foundation

Tim McTighe, John
Tim McTighe, John 'Oz' Osborne and Janet Williams confer on a word during last year's spelling bee.
— image credit: David Weller Photo

The Vashon Community Scholarship Foundation will host its hallmark annual spelling bee fundraiser, Spell It!, Saturday at Camp Burton.

This will be the eighth year the nonprofit has sponsored the fundraiser, which will once again feature an audience-judged team costume contest, as well as the emcee team of Jeanne Dougherty and Emmy-winning voice actor Jeff Hoyt.

The spelling bee is unique on Vashon, organizers say, because unlike typical fundraisers, it requires teamwork, creativity and even audience participation.

Hoyt believes that it’s precisely this involvement of everyone at the event that not only brings people back to the bee, but inspires new entrees as well.

“Most participants start out as a spectator first and get drawn in by how riveting this event can be to watch,” he said in an email to The Beachcomber. “It’s funny. It’s tense. And it’s your friends up there — seeing how much fun the spellers are having is usually what draws new teams out of the woodwork.”

Teams can include one to three members, though as Barb Gustafson of the scholarship foundation noted, no one has ever registered individually.

The words used for the event are chosen by a group of island wordsmiths, Gustafson said. The group asks to remain as anonymous as possible given both their modesty and the seriousness with which people take the competition. The words range in both difficulty and commonality, from the more frequently used, like “tease” and “valid” — the shortest words from the list of the 2011 event — to words most have never heard, let alone used, such as “phycomycete” and “autochthonous,” both from last year’s event.

The anticipation by  teams and the audience for each word is Hoyt’s favorite part of the bee, he said.

“It’s that moment just before I pronounce each word when you can hear a pin drop in the room,” he said.

This year’s spelling bee will take place at Camp Burton, which is a change of venue from the bee’s previous years at the Vashon High School theater, which was already booked.

Also new this year, Vashon Winery will provide wine during the event, and there will be a costume parade.

Bee organizers say the annual event is meant both to bring in money for scholarships and simply to help spread the word about the foundation and its mission.

Since forming in 1986, the foundation has provided more than $1.5 million in scholarships to Vashon High School graduates, both by matching scholarship donors with recipients and raising money for additional scholarships to be given out. All seniors who submit scholarship notebooks receive at least one scholarship.

“The bee is not necessarily the best fundraiser,” Gustafson said, “but it seems to be the most fun for people. That’s why we do it.”

Spell It!

The bee will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday at Camp Burton. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and students. Anyone interested in registering a team can do so up until the day of the event by calling Barb Gustafson at 463-1638 or emailing There are individuals currently looking for teammates. Go to for more information on becoming a sponsor or making a donation. If a team wishes to register but cannot afford the fee, sponsorships are available.

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